One of the best testimonies to the value of arts education came from a principal I met while in Dubai presenting for the KDSL MENA Conference. He told me about the art teacher in his primary school, who was teaching 4 year olds about perspective. She did it by helping them create a snowman picture.
You all know how to make a snowman; three balls of increasingly smaller sizes stacked atop of one another with a carrot nose and charcoal eyes. She asked them to do this, but then she took them deeper. She asked them to imagine that they were able to fly like a bird and see the snowman from above; and then create a picture of what the bird would see. The bird of course would see three nested circles with a carrot jutting out to one side.
“And that sold my school,” said the principal, “I had parents signing up just because of that one exercise.” Because of course, what the art teacher had done was to connect abstract concepts to concrete physical activities so that 4 year olds could participate in critical inquiry. Herein lies the power of the arts to engage students in the skills they need for the 21st century. At its core, arts education involves creating, innovating, generating, making products, presenting, responding, critically thinking about product and processes; as well as connecting with the world.
Arts Standards Website a Treasure Map for Designing Instruction in and through the Arts
Visitors to the National Core Arts Standards interactive website will find the global processes and their corresponding overarching eleven anchors which, define the way the brain and body make art. Finally, the site maps the anchor standards to grade level discipline specific learning targets for planning instruction and assessing learning in Dance, Media Arts, Music, theatre and Visual Arts.
Returning to our snowman story, let’s imagine the art teacher aligning her lesson with the standards so that she could define focused learning targets and assess student learning. Beginning with the artistic processes, she might have identified creating (students were making snowmen) and responding (students were critically thinking about artwork) as the focus of this particular lesson. Searching through the anchor standards Creating Anchor #1, “Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work,” and responding Anchor #8, “interpret intent and meaning in artistic work,” jump out as overarching goals. These align quite nicely with the Common Core Geometry standards for Kindergarten. “Describe objects in the environment using names of shapes and describe relative positions of these objects using terms such as above, below, beside, in front of, behind, next to”. Using the custom handbook function of the website and choosing the filters of “Visual Arts”, “Grades PreK & K” “Creating” and “responding” brings up grade level standards aligned with these Artistic Processes and Arts Anchors which serve as learning targets to evaluate student learning and focus instruction. “VA: Cr1.1.K engage in exploration and imaginative play with materials,” and “VA: re7.2.K describe what an image represents.”
This example shows how the new process based national core arts standards and their interactive home form a map for learning which allows educators to easily connect their lessons to 21st century learning in the arts. Stop by often, you’ll find the buried treasure at www.nationalartsstanards.org.
By Cory Wilkerson